Unlocking motivation in workplace learning: a playbook for L&D managers 

Mark Eggers, 3 min read
Dangling carrot

Motivation: modern society is in constant search of it. At work, at home, and in almost every other aspect of life, if you were to offer any person a dose of extra motivation, I’m willing to bet they’d take it. 

As the job market gets increasingly competitive and employees become more vocal about seeking learning opportunities at work, the importance of ongoing training and growth has never been more critical in staying competitive and improving your employer brand.

And as L&D managers or those responsible for learning, it's your role to foster an environment where employees are genuinely motivated to learn, not just to list as a perk on job ads but as a pivotal factor directly shaping long-term business success. 

So in this post, I’ll dig into the intricacies of motivation within the learning space. We'll discuss the concepts of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, explore their impact on learning outcomes, and provide some actionable strategies you can use to build a culture of engaged, eager learning within your organisation. I’ll also share how Yarno customers succeed, and how our platform helps make it happen. 

Why employees’ motivation to learn is vital for business results

The connection between employee learning and overall business success is clear. Organisations that smartly invest in high-quality learning and development initiatives often witness a surge in employee engagement, notable performance enhancements, and markedly higher retention rates. 

In fact, a report by the Association for Talent Development (ATD) uncovered that companies with comprehensive training programs enjoyed a whopping 218% higher income per employee compared to organisations that offered more modest learning opportunities. This statistic is a testament to learning's role in driving financial prosperity and sustained growth. Again, it’s not just a nice-to-have.

It’s not easily done, though – if it were, there’d be no point in writing this article! Motivation at work is so much of an enigma that some of the smartest people around have made it their life’s work to figure it out.

Take Dr. Jason Fox, for example. You might know him from his popular museletter (or his impressive facial hair), but one part of Dr. Fox’s work that we’ve been following since the early days of Yarno is his book, The Game Changer

In the book, Fox covers the science of motivation in detail, along with the power of game and work design – and how they can be used together to develop inherently motivating activities that are aligned with purpose and geared for progress. 

So, onto motivation then: let’s talk about it.

What is extrinsic motivation?

Extrinsic motivation is a psychological concept that refers to being driven to perform a particular activity or task to achieve an external reward or outcome, rather than finding inherent enjoyment or satisfaction in the activity itself. 

In other words, extrinsically motivated people engage in a task mainly for reasons like earning money, gaining recognition, receiving praise, avoiding punishment, or obtaining some form of tangible benefit. 

While these external rewards can create impressive short-term engagement, they may not be enough to sustain a genuine and enduring passion for learning.

What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, refers to being driven to engage in a particular activity or task due to the inherent satisfaction, enjoyment, or personal interest one derives from the activity itself. 

When someone is intrinsically motivated, they find a sense of fulfilment, curiosity, or a genuine desire to learn and improve without relying on external rewards or pressures. 

When it comes to learning in the workplace, intrinsic motivation is more or less the holy grail and the key to fostering a culture of continuous improvement and personal development.

The research of Daniel Pink, another renowned author who's delved into the science of motivation, highlights the pivotal role of autonomy, mastery, and purpose in nurturing intrinsic motivation (particularly in his book, Drive, which is naturally a part of the Yarno library). 

Intrinsically motivated employees instinctively gravitate towards learning about a topic for its own rewards, independent of external carrot-dangling. In simpler terms, intrinsic is the joy of doing, while extrinsic is the joy of receiving.

How extrinsic and intrinsic motivation shape workplace learning

While both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation play pivotal roles in steering employee behaviour, their impact on workplace learning is a nuanced affair. 

The lines between the two can sometimes be blurred. To illustrate, imagine Sarah, a retail employee. She loves helping customers find the perfect product to fit their needs, and her intrinsic motivation is the buzz and heartwarming connection with a happy customer. But when you offer her a bonus for upselling, that's extrinsic motivation. Each type has its merits. Intrinsic motivation fosters genuine passion, while extrinsic motivation sweetens the pot.

Extrinsic motivation can act as an initial spark, grabbing employees' attention and nudging them to start learning. Yet, the punch of these external rewards can wane over time, leading to dwindling engagement and commitment. A pizza lunch is exciting the first few times, but there are only so many slices of Hawaiian you can gobble down before you lose interest in the learning activity. 

Pizza party

On the flip side, intrinsic motivation fuels a sustained enthusiasm for learning, leading to improved learning performance and better knowledge retention. 

How L&D managers can encourage intrinsic motivation in employees

In line with Pink’s research, encouraging intrinsic motivation comes down to autonomy, mastery, and purpose. 

  • Nurture autonomy: Empower your team members by allowing them to choose their learning path. After all, it’s them doing the learning, not you. Let them explore topics that actually interest them and align with their long-term career aspirations (not only what your company needs to upskill in).
  • Champion mastery: Foster skill development by offering opportunities for employees to master new talents. Work with people to lay out clear, achievable learning goals that allow them to track their progress and reflect on their achievements.
  • Connect with purpose: Showcase the greater organisational purpose that learning serves. Illustrate how their learning pursuits directly contribute to the company's mission and vision and the positive business aspects. 

The downfalls of relying on extrinsic motivation elements (only)

While effective, extrinsic motivation has its limits. It might fuel temporary bursts of enthusiasm, but it's not the silver bullet some companies think it is. Over time, employees might start asking, "What's in it for me?" when the external rewards wane in frequency or perceived value.

Focusing on extrinsic motivation elements can displace an activity's inherent motivation and muddy the waters of intrinsic motivation, making it harder to connect on a personal or emotional level with the task. 

Also, it sends a message: this task or topic is so unmotivating that I need to motivate you with a physical reward. 

If it ever feels like you have to beg employees to learn, it’s probably a good time to return to the drawing board. 

I am begging you from my soul

How to harness extrinsic motivation effectively

  • Acknowledge milestones: Implement a structured approach to recognise and celebrate employees' learning milestones. Recognition boosts their sense of accomplishment and fuels their motivation to keep learning.

  • Serve tangible rewards: Create a direct link between learning achievements and tangible rewards. Certificates, badges, or even modest perks can act as symbols of achievement, reinforcing the value of learning.

  • Find the balance: Achieving the balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is an art that learning content creators and L&D managers are often expected to master. When used wisely, extrinsic rewards can act as initial stimulants, while intrinsic motivation nurtures a lasting desire for learning. A blended approach that capitalises on the strengths of both forms of motivation will get the best results.

How Yarno customers encourage learning motivation with our platform

1. Goal setting

When creating a learning campaign, we work with our customers to set goals for the campaign itself and the longer-term plan for Yarno.

Within the goal-setting framework, we cover four key elements:

  • The desired end result – what’s a tangible metric to measure the success of this campaign?
  • Target behaviours – what do people need to do to achieve that result?
  • Knowledge and behaviours – what do learners need to know or understand? What skills do they need to develop?
  • Specific learning objectives – what will learners be able to do by the end of this campaign?

Psst: We have a free template for creating a campaign goal statement here, if you’re interested.

And once we’ve got the goals nailed down, we can be sure that we’re in a good place to create content that brings results.

2. High-quality content 

I harp on about it a lot over on LinkedIn, but we’ve established that more lol = more learn

The fun and humour our content creators instil in Yarno questions and explanations (think GIFs, memes and dad jokes) is one of the main differentiators in Yarno content, and a big reason many of our customers and their staff love using Yarno. Even for the most conventionally ‘boring’ topic, there’s always a way to keep things interesting. 

Engaging content format plays a role, too. The Yarno platform can currently cater to: 

  • Text-based questions
  • Image-based questions 
  • Video and gif-based questions 
  • Audio-based questions 

The different question types can help cater to different learning preferences and keep things interesting for learners – variety is the spice of life, right? 

3. In-platform gamification

We touched on it briefly, but gamification elements have been built into the Yarno platform from the start. The features our customers have at their disposal include: 

  • Leaderboards (according to my team, beating your boss on the leaderboard is supposed to be incredibly satisfying)
  • Badges (for 5, 10, 20 and 50 question streaks and over 80% correct answer rate)
  • Progress bars and indicators
  • Strongest and weakest topics
  • The quiz format itself

4. Extrinsic motivators

As we’ve covered, physical or extrinsic rewards aren’t something to be ashamed of using. Some teams will respond better to them than others, and it’s all about knowing your team when designing the rewards strategy for learning initiatives.  

Our customer success team has noticed that for sales teams, particularly in the retail space, extrinsic motivators like prizes (vouchers, team outings and gifts) are among the most popular rewards for winning teams. I guess you really can’t beat a free lunch, huh?

How do we know it works? 

Yarno consistently achieves completion rates of over 80% compared to a 15% average completion rate for open online courses. Not only that, but Yarno customers have an average of 29% performance uplift from the first to the second attempt at a question.

We hear it from L&D managers and learners themselves, too – here are a couple of epic quotes from managers and learners about their experience with Yarno:

  • “Hey there! Can I please continue to receive the questions until I hit 100% correct? I’m really enjoying learning and the experience.” — Renee, Driver at a transport company 
  • “The team are excited, having fun, talking about it and REALLY stoked on by the competition aspect.” — Senior manager at a national retail grocery chain


To sum it up, companies live or die by employee motivation. The happier, more motivated and more excited about progressing at work and within themselves your employees are, the better your company performs. 

It’s a continuous process of knowing your team, understanding what gets them excited about learning and using that knowledge to help them become even better at what they do. 

If you’d like to chat more about how Yarno can help boost learning motivation in your business, get in touch with me here, on LinkedIn, or by email – I’m always open for a no-pressure chat about your business goals and how we can help. 

Mark Eggers

Mark Eggers

Mark heads up the Sales team at Yarno. He loves to chat, which is fortunate because he’s very good at it. He's our digital Swiss Army Knife, always armed with a solution to any problem.

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